The Fine Line Between Desire and Acceptance

By Jimmy Warden

In today’s world, we are told two messages that vary tremendously in their context and purpose. One message is that we should “desire to be our best self”. The other message is “accept yourself for who you are”. I truly believe that these messages are responsible for a lot of the inner turmoil that we face in our conscious minds. They couldn’t be more different from each other because they create a split within our conscious thinking. It splits our understandings about our current state of being and what decisions to make to support ourselves. However, my hope with this essay is to clear up how to navigate these two different paths of thinking, and how we can integrate them to create a more grounded mental state when thinking about ourselves.

The Desire to Be Our Best Selves

This concept is something that we are exposed to within our own minds, but it is also something that we are exposed to on a daily basis through our observations and of course, social media. We see people in our daily lives seemingly “doing it all”.

The “super mom” who works a full-time job, does a lot of house maintenance work, takes the kids to school and their extracurricular activities, and still has time to cook a wonderful dinner. Perhaps, we also notice the “super dad”. The guy who gets up and crushes a workout before the sun comes up, makes the time to be with his kids before and after work (perhaps even he is the one who transports), does a stellar job with his career, and makes sure to let his wife know that she is appreciated. These are the local people that seem to be doing it all and doing it well.

Not only that, but we also see the various influence on social media from these local people and celebrities that we might follow. We see The Rock in his “Iron Paradise”, throwing around 120 pound dumbbells at midnight after a day of filming his latest action movie; we see David Goggins running 14 miles in 120 degree desert heat while vehemently yelling his expletive filled inspirational messages; we see LeBron James creating a school and providing scholarship money for at-risk youth in his hometown of Akron to create better lives for them.

We see the constant drive of all of these people and we see their consistent performances across time and we see how much they’re truly living out the best version of themselves.

Then there’s us. Your average, everyday, run of the mill person. We might not see in ourselves what others might see in us. We’re always thinking of ways that we need to improve ourselves because of the people that we see; the people that we work for; and the people we love and care for.

All of these thoughts lead to our desires for wanting to be better versions of ourselves. We want to be there more for our family and friends. We want to perform better at our occupation. We want to be in better physical shape. We want to be in better mental shape. These wants are merely the surface points; broad overarching ideas of the specific wants. Wanting to be more present and spend more time with family than we currently do. Wanting to receive a promotion or status change to show our competency. Wanting to lose weight or body fat to show the physical changes of our body. Wanting to have more awareness of our conscious thoughts so we can let go of narratives that are not serving us in the present moment or our future selves.

These wants and desires are not completed without great sacrifices of our time and effort. In order to fulfill even a fraction of them, time needs to be carved out of our current schedules to show up to these occasions, and effort needs to be given in order for it to have any meaningful impact. This means that some of the things we do each day need to be swapped out for some of the deeper wants and desires that have been mentioned. They are simply more fulfilling and we know that it’s better than our current bad habits that we have.

This is also why another narrative splits our decision making process into two. Accepting ourselves for who we are.

Accepting Ourselves for Who We Are

Being our best selves can be challenging, stressful, and unenjoyable, which are big reasons why we’re also told to accept ourselves for who we are. Not only that, but there is also the idea that setting our goals too high in an attempt to be our best selves is an unfulfillable prophecy that leads to failure and disappointment. By “risking it all” and “going all out” each day, we put ourselves at risk to never be satisfied with our accomplishments and we also put ourselves at risk to burnout quickly from the consistent, high octane manner of living.

Therefore, we don’t need to strive to do things that those we envy are doing. We don’t need to try to emulate any of their efforts because they are in some way, better than us. We are not them, so we cannot replicate what they do. We don’t have a schedule that The Rock does. We don’t have the mental toughness that David Goggins has. We don’t have the money that LeBron James does. We don’t have the energy or willpower or a “super mom” or “super dad” or any other “super human” for that matter. We are told to accept ourselves for who we are.

We are told that we are doing enough. We are told that our current state is enough. We are told that we are fine just the way we are. We are told to accept others and the world around us for what it is.

These messages tell us that we’re spending enough time and being present enough with our loved ones; so we don’t have to try to make more quality time for them. We are doing just fine at our job; so we don’t need to go above and beyond to seek out a promotion or status change. We are doing alright with our physical health; so we don’t need to change our activity levels or nutritional intake. We are doing alright with our mental health, so we don’t need to go see a counselor or try a different introspective technique.

There are also many things in our lives that happen to us that are out of our control and quite often these events lead to feelings of distress. Death of a loved one, breakup from an intimate relationship, fired from our job (despite maintaining proficient performance), family or friends move away; all of these things are out of our control and all of these things lead to us feeling distressed. This is a big reason why people believe in the Serenity Prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference”. Regardless of those things we cannot change, we still need to accept those outcomes in order to try to move forward with our lives.

So the big question is, what to make of this?

The Paradox

These messages blatantly contradict one another. One message is telling us to do more; the other is tellings us to do nothing different. The interesting paradox is that we can’t have one without the other if we want to have a more rational mind that is supporting our whole self.

We can’t constantly guillotine ourselves over every mistake that we make (figuratively or literally), but we should try to analyze our mistakes, especially ones that we really don’t want to repeat. Ones that negatively impact our current self, future self, and those around us.

We can’t constantly compare our current status to others around us, especially celebrities, but we should try to compare our current self to our past self. That way we can gauge whether or not we are growing as human beings.

These two points of perspective allow us to slowly, incrementally become better humans; if that’s the path we decide to choose for ourselves. These two points of perspective can allow us to healthily strive to become better, while also being accepting of our current states of being and abilities to perform.

What Should We Do?

In order to make this paradox work in our favor, we need to find healthy doses of each at the appropriate times and locations of our lives. There will be times when we’ll need to “step up” and times where we’ll need to “sit back and relax”. These are all based on the needs in that current time frame and that current location.

For example, let’s take the idea of eating a bit healthier. If you’re an individual who is not fond of vegetables, but you’re making an effort to consume more of them each day; you might want to start out with one serving of greens per day, as opposed to having a serving at every meal or having a serving when you “feel like it”. Let’s face it, having a serving at every meal might make you gag by day’s end and having a serving when you “feel like it” may never happen at all. Therefore, it’s okay not to “be your best” and have a serving at every meal and it’s okay to accept having one bowl because it’s above your current consumption level.

This can be applied to multiple avenues of life, as long as you’re willing to take the time to reason rationally with yourself. Oddly enough, this process of rational thinking can help us understand what our “current best” is; that way we can actually take some authentic pride in who we currently are. By taking measures of our current statuses across several different areas of our lives; we are trying to level our life up at a reasonable, realistic rate. This is the wisdom and courage from the Serenity Prayer.

So take some time to think about whether you desire to be better or you accept your current state. You just might find something interesting!

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